Abraham Shalom Yahuda’s Extraordinary Tabernacle Model

Among the thousands of documents, letters, rare books and manuscripts in the Yahuda collection at the National Library of Israel, there is a unique and unusual object: a precise three-dimensional model of the Tabernacle and its vessels down to the last detail of its golden rings and scarlet threads. What was the impetus behind Prof. Abraham Shalom Yahuda’s extraordinary model?

Abraham Shalom Yahuda and the model of the Tabernacle. All the photographs in this article depict the Tabernacle model in the Abraham Shalom Yehuda Archive at the National Library of Israel

With his prodigious knowledge of Arab culture, and expertise in Oriental studies (now called Middle Eastern studies) as well as Jewish religion and history, Abraham Shalom Yahuda was a much sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit. However, one lecture in particular made it into the headlines of the 1939 Passover edition of the venerated British Jewish newspaper The Jewish Chronicle: “BUILDING OF THE TABERNACLE – Evidence of Biblical Authenticity – HEBREWS AT THE TIME OF EXODUS” (March 24, 1939).

The newspaper enthusiastically reported that Prof. Yahuda “delivered a lecture last week on ‘The Building and Craftsmanship of the Tabernacle,’ […] accompanied by the showing of a model, specially built for Professor Yahuda of the Tabernacle, and it aroused great interest. The model was complete down to the most minute detail […] in strict accordance with Dr. Yahuda’s views […] [Yahuda] revealed a perfect knowledge of absolute craftsmanship and of architecture.” (ibid.).

How did a boy from the Sephardic community of the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem wind up studying for a doctorate in Semitic languages in Germany? What drew him, in the midst of his academic career, to undertake the complex and Sisyphean task of crafting a model of the Tabernacle? And most curiously, what does the model, now in the Yahuda Collection at the National Library of Israel, look like? In order to answer these questions, we must go back in time to Jerusalem of the late 19th century, which was just beginning to expand beyond the Old City’s walls.


From Jerusalem to Germany

The year is 1877. Abraham Shalom is born to the Yahuda family living in the Even Yisrael neighborhood, the sixth to be built outside the walls. His mother was originally from Germany and his father was the scion of a distinguished and wealthy family originally from Iraq. In Jerusalem of those days, such mixed ethnic marriages were rare, but in his family, it was expected, as Abraham Shalom writes in his memoirs:

In those days, the Sephardic and Ashkenazic communities were estranged. [However] my grandfather’s father, Rabbi Shlomo Yehezkel Yahuda, who had come from Iraq to Jerusalem, because of his charity and generous support of many scholars, was beloved by all communities, Sephardim and Ashkenazim alike… and he tried with all his might to endear the communities to each other.

And the first thing he did was to give his daughter Sara’s hand in marriage to Rabbi Yehoshua Yellin of Łomża, and to betroth his eldest son Shaul to the daughter of Rabbi Yeshaya Bardaki, one of the great Ashkenazic rabbis and important community leaders, and his younger son Faraj Haim to the daughter of the Chabad follower Rabbi Israel Shapira from a distinguished family from Poland. My father, Rabbi Benjamin, also followed in his footsteps and sought to draw the Ashkenazim closer, and hired melamdim (religious tutors) from the community for my elder brother and myself.

(Abraham Shalom Yahuda, When I Studied Rashi [Hebrew])

From a young age, Abraham Shalom was taught Torah, Jewish law, Mishnah and Talmud and other religious texts according to Jewish tradition, by private tutors hired by his parents. Yahuda describes it thus:

My father, being well-to-do, would pay a well-known tutor double and triple the going rate on condition that he not take on more than two or three additional students besides me, and who must be more advanced in their studies, in order to stimulate my scholarly envy. He did the same with all of my tutors. Indeed, this was to my benefit, particularly, a few years later, when I was studying Talmud. (Ibid.)

In his teens, he began studying other subjects, also with private tutors, Arabic language in particular, which became his great passion. At age 17, he published an article on the Arabic language in the newspaper HaMelitz, and the book Kadmoniyot Ha’Aravim (“Antiquities of the Arabs”) about the history of Arab culture before Islam. Shortly after, he wrote another article titled Nedivei ve’Giborei Arav (“The Nobles and Heroes of Arabia”).

Yahuda, wanting to pursue higher education in the field of Oriental studies, traveled for that purpose, to the birthplace of this scientific field, which, as chance would have it, was also the birthplace of his mother. He studied at various universities in Germany and received his doctorate in 1904.


A Zionist of Arabia

Oriental studies, as developed in Germany, included both Jewish and Bible studies as well as Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, so that by the end of his academic training, Abraham Shalom Yehuda was an expert in several fields. Being in Europe also opened up new intellectual and social horizons for him and he forged personal connections with scholars and researchers as well as with international statesmen, leaders and members of the elite. He was invited to give lectures at universities throughout Europe and even at the court of the King of Spain, a connection he later leveraged in order to aid persecuted Jews.

In addition to his academic career, Yahuda also became a Zionist activist, befriending Shaul Tchernichovsky and Prof. Joseph Klausner, and even meeting with Theodor Herzl in London. Yahuda describes this meeting and Herzl’s great interest in the young Orientalist’s thoughts about current relations between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land:

Dr. Herzl . . . asked me if I thought the Muslims in the Land of Israel would willingly accept the matter of a Jewish state, if the Sultan will hand over the Land of Israel to the Jews… I was a little embarrassed, because I knew . . . that he knew only a little about the real conditions in the Land of Israel and the situation of the Arab population. I told him that in my opinion we must gain the local Arabs’ sympathy for the plan, and that the Sultan will not take any serious step without the consent of the residents . . . Dr. Herzl sounded disappointed upon hearing my opinion.

(“Herzl’s Attitude to the Arab Problem“, Hed Hamizrah, October 7, 1949 [Hebrew])

Yahuda met Herzl again about a year later at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, where he reiterated his thoughts about initiating direct communication with the country’s Arabs, but to no avail:

Dr. Herzl was adamant that the residents of the Land of Israel have no opinion on this matter, that the Sultan has absolute say. I warned him again . . . emphasizing [the importance of] establishing a closer relationship with the Arabs of the Land of Israel and explaining the Zionist objectives to them as well as the great advantages they will achieve from honest cooperation with us.

I realized from everything he told me about the Arabs that he was completely misled by representatives who never had a clear understanding of the issues surrounding the Arab problem, yet these were the “experts” on whose opinion Dr. Herzl was relying. (Ibid.)

Prof. Yahuda belonged to a stream in the Zionist movement that believed in cooperation and dialogue with the Arabs of the Land of Israel, who knew them, their way of life, their leaders and social codes from childhood. They sought to establish relationships with them and not go above their heads and present them with a fait accompli that would inevitably lead to resistance and rebellion. Apparently, this thinking – and the desire to prove the existence of ancient connections between the Jews and their Arab surroundings – was one of the reasons he decided to invest so much of his time and resources in the Tabernacle model, discussed in more detail below.


“Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you” (Ex 25: 9)

The model of the Tabernacle built by Prof. Abraham Shalom Yahuda is based on the description in the Book of Exodus, chapters 25–35. These contain the commands for the building of the Tabernacle and describe in detail the preparation of the tools and other accessories used in the ceremonies performed in it. The text also includes instructions for the Tabernacle’s dismantling and reassembly in accordance with the practice of the ancient Israelites during their wanderings in the desert, on their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan. Besides relying on the descriptions in the Bible, Yahuda would consult the writings of the great biblical commentator Rashi for whom he had the greatest admiration, on any matter that seemed to him unclear:

I was always impressed with Rashi’s vast knowledge in every field, even in crafts, such as pottery, carpentry, silversmithing, sewing, weaving, and the like regarding the crafts and craftsmanship of the Tabernacle.”

(When I Studied Rashi)

Thus, equipped with the Bible’s instructions and Rashi’s commentary, Yahuda began his work. First, he built the Tabernacle’s frame: the sides made of wooden posts on silver bases and connected to each other by means of three bolts threaded through crossbars.

The crossbars were gold-plated, and accordingly Yahuda placed golden cylinders inside them, creating the impression that they were made of gold, according to the biblical command:

At the Tabernacle’s entrance there were columns on which was hung a veil (parokhet) made of woven fabric. Similar columns separated the Tabernacle’s two parts – an outer sanctuary, the “Holy Place” and an inner sanctuary, “the Holy of Holies.” Yehuda decided to decorate these with Corinthian capitals, a detail that does not appear in the Bible.  These too are covered with fabric.

According to the Bible, the veil fabric was specially woven on both sides so that each side displayed a different pattern. According to Rashi’s commentary, the pattern featured lions. Prof. Yahuda followed this interpretation and had a fabric woven which clearly shows the variety of the threads as detailed in the Bible “blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and of finely twisted linen” (Ex 39: 2), with images of lions on it.

The Tabernacle was covered with bolts of various fabrics and hides, which were connected with hooks. You can see in the model the precision and attention to detail in connecting the hooks to the fabrics.

The Tabernacle was surrounded by a courtyard, which also consisted of columns on which was written “And their tops were overlaid with silver.” Here too, Yahuda depended on Rashi’s commentary which interpreted this to mean that the columns were decorated with silver fillets – and so he also built the courtyard columns and decorated them with hoops of silver wire.

Finally, the walls of the Tabernacle’s courtyard were prepared with the greatest precision, and as Rashi explains, were made “like a kind of ship’s slats, with apertures, like basketry, and not like the weaver’s work.”


“Build an altar” (Ex 27: 1)

Besides the Tabernacle structure itself, Prof. Abraham Shalom Yehuda’s model also includes the Tabernacle vessels and other accessories that were used in it. For example, he built a model of the altar, square and with four corners, and like all the vessels of the Tabernacle it was attached by rings to long wooden poles for carrying it on journeys in the desert. The beautifully crafted model of the altar includes a “a grate of bronze mesh”, with “…a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the mesh”, which is placed “beneath the ledge of the altar, so that the mesh comes halfway up the altar.” (Ex 27: 4–5). See in the accompanying photo how the model follows closely the instructions in the biblical text.

Yahuda also included in the model the bronze laver used for washing the hands and feet of the priests before they entered the interior space of the Tabernacle to perform their work.

as well as the various musical instruments: trumpets, cymbals, and more, which accompanied the Tabernacle work and the Israelites’ journeys in the desert.

To these, he added small explanatory handwritten signs in beautiful script.

Small figurines were apparently placed in different locations around the model in order to demonstrate the various roles of the priests and the ceremonies and events that took place in the Tabernacle. Among the figurines are a man bringing an offering of first fruits, a priest washing his hands and feet, a guard, and a man bringing an animal for sacrifice.

Yahuda apparently made use of the model, and an accompanying drawing in his many lectures, in which he explained the construction of the Tabernacle and the daily activities that took place in it. Judging from the report in the Jewish Chronicle, it clearly aroused great interest among listeners and viewers.


An Orientalist Becomes an Artisan?

We are left with the question: what was Yahuda’s motivation in embarking on such a project that included an abundance of items, of which only some have been described here, that necessitated such precision and detail, required much deep research, and engaged professional artists in its construction?

Unfortunately, Yahuda did not leave any notes explaining his motive, work and goals. We can however find several explanations in the lectures he gave after its construction.

As mentioned, Yahuda was an Orientalist who strove to strengthen ties between Jews and Arabs, between their respective cultures and in particular between the peoples living in the Land of Israel. For him, the Tabernacle was a means of proving the deep ties that existed in ancient times between the Jews and the Egyptian people. According to Yahuda, it would have been impossible for the Israelites in the desert to obtain all the materials, means and talents to build such a magnificent Tabernacle without having learned the various crafts from the Egyptians and without having been able to take with them fabrics, metals, precious stones and other materials from the wealth of pharaonic Egypt. As he saw it, the years of hard labor described in the Bible were preceded by years of Jewish integration in Egypt, in its culture and in its physical and spiritual wealth. The Tabernacle is evidence of this.

The work of the Tabernacle, he believed, is proof of monotheism’s uniqueness over the idol worship practiced in Canaan, and in this, Jews and Muslims, for whom belief in one God is a pillar of both faiths, share common ground.

Another motive for building the model is related to an equally important issue that Yahuda grappled with in his professional life, which is the controversy over the degree of truth behind the real-world artifacts mentioned in the biblical stories. Yahuda, who as mentioned was also an expert on religious issues, had disagreements with his colleagues on these topics. Construction of the Tabernacle supported his claim for the Bible’s veracity in these matters.

And it might also be possible that between his scholarly pursuits, research, reading and writing, Yahuda perhaps also may have enjoyed working with his hands and giving free rein to his imagination, creativity and the artist in him.

In any event, after Abraham Shalom Yahuda’s death in 1951 in the United States, where he had been a professor at several universities, thousands of items from his personal archive were transferred to the National Library of Israel, including dozens of boxes containing the parts of the spectacular model he built. The Yahuda Collection at the National Library of Israel, which numbers documents and manuscripts as well as the elaborate model of the Tabernacle and its vessels, is a reflection of his multifaceted professional personality.


The photos of the Tabernacle model that are published here for the first time, are from the Abraham Shalom Yahuda Archive at the National Library of Israel. The archive is being cataloged and will be made accessible thanks to the kind donation of the Samis Foundation, Seattle, Washington, dedicated to the memory of Samuel Israel.











Drawing a New Life in the New Jewish State

Refugee boats, transit camps and immigrant neighborhoods – Artist David Friedmann arrived in Israel in 1949 from Czechoslovakia after surviving harrowing experiences during the Holocaust. In celebration of Israel’s 75th Birthday, his daughter Miriam, who was born in the Jewish state a year later, shares his stories and artworks documenting those early months in Israel

"A Street in Hadar Yosef", by David Friedmann

My father David Friedman(n) 1893-1980, a prolific artist and Holocaust survivor, recorded his experiences in words, artwork and albums. He is renowned for his most important contribution — an art series depicting scenes he witnessed from deportation with his family from Prague to the Lodz Ghetto, further to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the death march to liberation at Blechhammer in January 1945. His wife Mathilde and young daughter Mirjam-Helene did not survive. He returned to Prague to begin a new life, one without family. The strongest will of mankind, the will to live, gave him the power to start again from scratch.

He immersed himself in drawing and painting the scenes torn from his memory and held exhibitions to show his art to the world. Then a communist coup was carried out in February 1948, and shortly thereafter Czechoslovakia became a brutal communist dictatorship. The State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948. David Friedmann married fellow survivor Hildegard Taussig two weeks later at the Old-New Synagogue in Prague. Their marriage began at a refugee’s pace as they planned to flee.

Friends and family, mostly survivors of concentration camps, celebrate the Jewish wedding of David and Hildegard Friedmann on May 27, 1948. Karl Taussig, Hilde’s father stands left of the bride. Roman Chudy, who made the wedding rings, is right of the groom. Directly behind them is author František Kraus wearing a white hat, and his wife Alice.

I was born in Israel and named after my half-sister. My father made it his business to ensure his daughter would know her history. Several days after I was born in 1950, he wrote a diary for me, Tagebuch für Mirjam Friedmann (Diary for Miriam Friedmann). One senses his joy when compiling a photo album with handwritten and typed captions about his new life in a new country with Hilde and baby Miriam. The photo album also reflects a significant part of Israel’s founding history — the emigration of survivor immigrants starting over again with nothing but their strong will to survive and build a new life after the Holocaust. The immigrants were brought to an absorption center and crowded into tents without electricity and running water. The sanitary conditions were poor. They were exposed to rain and cold during the winter months and heat in the summer. Nevertheless, the survivors were free and eager to move forward.

Thus, the photo album was no ordinary creation. My father displayed artwork and typed stories of the first year in his new country. The drawings depicted three scenes after arriving in July 1949 in the tent city Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, and then Raanana. He enjoyed producing portraits and painting throughout Israel from 1950 to 1954, when our family left for America. David Friedmann captured the colorful landscape and experiences from the beginnings of the Jewish state. I hope to preserve my father’s artwork in an Israel museum for future generations to enjoy as much as me.


“After the Hasty Departure From Prague to Israel in July 1949”

(The following text was written by David Friedmann. It has been edited compiled and translated from German by his daughter Miriam Friedman Morris)

I was elated to read in the Prague Jewish newsletter that the State of Israel had been founded and that all Jews were called to immigrate as soon as possible, it was a land of freedom and many possibilities. Indeed, many of our friends and acquaintances immigrated. After experiencing more than our share of aggravation with the communists in every regard, Hilde and I decided to do the same.

The War Museum committee wanted to buy some of my paintings and they offered a good price. I was sitting down with high-ranking military men at the desk, and they told me how proud I could be that my works would be displayed in their museum. But my answer was no, I needed the works to be on exhibit in Israel and as they heard that, they jumped from their chairs so fast I became terrified. I said I am very sorry, but I cannot sell my paintings. A few minutes later they told me it would be all right for me to take my paintings home. However, by the look on their faces I could tell they were very angry.

I got into trouble over the artwork and the Czech government ordered an “export prohibition”. But I found an important official, himself an artist, and for 1000 Kc all the works were marked with a government stamp and this is how I was able to save my paintings for Israel. I arranged for a lift (a large wooden storage container) with a transport agency and the paintings along with furniture and belongings were shipped to Israel. Meanwhile we were registered for emigration.

Although we had prepared for a year, our hasty departure from Prague in July 1949 to Israel felt like fleeing. We had to leave an apartment with three rooms plus kitchen and hall, all with the most modern comfort. The Czech government permitted us to take only the equivalent of 2½ Israeli pounds, so you can imagine how difficult it was to start all over with nothing. However, our strong will to survive gave us enormous strength. After certain difficulties we reached the Czech border. The officers asked me where my paintings were and I told them they were in Prague. They searched all through our luggage, but finally believed me and let us go. We were joyful to have escaped the communists and had to sign that we renounced our Czech citizenship and never would return to this country. We changed to an Austrian train with Russian guards with extended bayonets. When the train passed the border, headed for Vienna, we fell to our knees, we were so happy to be free again, this time from the communists. On the Italian train soldiers bolted the doors. We were not allowed to leave the train for drinking water at the stops. The Italians behaved disgracefully towards us.

Therefore, not until Naples when we boarded the Israeli ship Eilath did we truly feel free.

On board the Eilath July 17, 1949, a drawing from the David Friedmann series, My Journey from Naples to Israel July 12, 1949 (with the ship Eilath) and my Journey from Israel to New York Oct. 22, 1954 with the SS Jerusalem


On the Eilath, on the way to Israel July 12, 1949, a drawing from the David Friedmann series, My Journey from Naples to Israel July 12, 1949 (with the ship Eilath) and my Journey from Israel to New York Oct. 22, 1954 with the SS Jerusalem

I earned my first Israeli pounds making some portrait drawings. The ship machines made a deafening noise. At night it was impossible to sleep a wink and our hammocks swung considerably. Most of the people slept on deck. The view of Haifa harbor was fantastic and I only wished I could paint it, regretfully this never came about. Then came the registration formalities. We were asked by an official if we belonged to a political party and we answered, “Zionist” and then he asked my age, and I replied 56 years, at which point he pronounced “not employable”. This astounded me and I said to Hilde in Czech, “How stupid this fellow is, he has no idea of my ability”.

Then we were loaded with our baggage on trucks and brought to the reception camp for newcomers “Shaar Ha’Aliyah” (The Gate of Immigration), a few kilometers from Haifa. Guards opened the gates and closed them behind us. Astonished, we saw we were surrounded by high barbed wire fences. Nobody was allowed to leave the camp without permission. We were strongly reminded of the Nazi concentration camps.

Two Inmates of the Lodz Ghetto Walking by the German Fence, charcoal, 1947. From the David Friedmann art series, Because They Were Jews! Copyright © 1989 Miriam Friedman Morris


Feeding Time in Auschwitz, charcoal 1964. From the David Friedmann art series, Because They Were Jews! Copyright © 1989 Miriam Friedman Morris

However, we were happy to no longer be exposed to communist antisemitism. As in the First World War and the Hitler years, I knew in advance I would survive. Each time I started over with nothing and now in Israel, I was sure I could succeed again with Hilde’s help. I still had ample reserves of energy at that time, as well as the necessary knowledge and ability in my profession as artist, painter and craftsman.

Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, charcoal, July 1949, drawing placed in a family album

In Shaar Ha’Aliyah we were registered again, then examined for lice, powdered with DDT. Furthermore, we had to go barefoot through a milky liquid, probably also this DDT substance. I was very angry about all of this, however, we had to hold out. In the camp we searched for a free tent and there were plenty. The camp was dirty, stinking, and the food was terrible. We got food out of giant pails, standing in long rows, like with the Nazis. But the State of Israel was hardly one year old, and we knew over the years all would become better. We persevered with the help of Hilde’s sister (Else Taussig Löwy) and after one week we were transferred to the Beth Olim camp near Ranaana, where we also obtained a free tent. We received two iron bedsteads and straw sacks, which had been urinated on, one linen sheet for each, as well as an old gray blanket. We brought our baggage into the tent – and so began our new life.

The second day after our arrival in Shaar Ha’Aliyah, I found an opening in the barbed wire fence. Cautiously, I crawled my way out to freedom, having arranged with Hilde that I would be back some days later. In Haifa it was imperative I look up an old friend I knew from Berlin. I climbed on the bus to Haifa and looking at the advertising signs there, found his name written underneath. I went into the shop and the owner gave me the home address. I found him and he was very surprised and I became his guest. He gave me work and paid for sketches and portrait drawings. Wiser and with more money, I returned to my beloved Hilde, who was quite worried about me.

Out of the Transit Camp, Shaar Ha’Aliyah by Haifa, drawing placed in a family album

Now, Hilde could not stand it any longer. After ten years she finally wanted to see her sister who was living in Tel Aviv. Hilde knew where Else worked and the next day she took the bus there and immediately found Café Katz, on Ben Yehuda Street, known across Tel Aviv. Hilde sat herself down by a table. As Else began to pass her by carrying a tray of cups full of coffee, she recognized Hilde and let the whole tray drop to the floor, making a mighty crash. As the sisters kissed and held each other, the guests all clapped.

The Beth Olim tent camp. The town of Raanana is concealed behind the hills in the background. August 1949, drawing placed in a family album

Beth Olim was a lively place full of screaming children. New immigrants from all over the world streamed into Israel, for example from Czechoslovakia alone there were 15,000. Everyone was crowded together because space was lacking and so a Belgian couple joined us in our tent, though they were pleasant people. Our new camp also had a fence because of the many children; however, it was without barbed wire and everyone could go in and out. For this reason, we often went to the city of Ranaana and met very nice people who ordered portraits or posters from me. We also went to the café where we could dance and have a wonderful time. After weeks of living in tight quarters a tzrif (wooden shack) became available. The tzrif was lightly constructed of crude planks. We were ordered by the administration to move in and we were very happy and finally, we also became Israeli citizens.

Hilde’s father Karl Taussig and second wife Elza, and child Judita immigrated to Israel before us — but only because of my urging did they register, otherwise they would still be in Prague today. Through an agency, his daughter Else found him a position in his vocation as chemist at the well-known company “Mekorot” where he worked as a water specialist until he retired. For all of us a very good beginning.

Karl Taussig, Hilde and Miriam Friedmann, Judita and Elza Taussig, Ramat Amidar, March 1952


Karl Taussig, Miriam and Hilde Friedmann and Judita Taussig, Ramat Amidar, March 1952

I can no longer recall all we experienced in Raanana, yet I would like to mention one occurrence that happened during a terrible rainstorm. The storm surprised us in the night, it poured in buckets, something like this we had never experienced. The rain washed under the barracks, the water flowed inside, and we all sprang up, because it reached the rim of the bed. However, this was not the end of it, as in charged a new heavy gale and the barracks tipped over on the side of another barracks. Now we ran out in our nightclothes and got soaking wet of course, before waiting out the rest of the storm with one of our neighbors. After a few hours we were able to return to our wet home. It was no longer possible to think of sleep, everything was drenched. In the early morning we carried our things to dry out in the sun.

For the long run, we did not want to live in a tent or shack. We looked at various possible apartments, but none pleased us. Then we were told in a short time a new village near Tel Aviv was planned and we could register if we had the 250 pounds down payment and the monthly rent of 6 pounds. However, we needed to hurry because a great number had already been sold. We were shown the building plans and the name of the place: Hadar Yosef, only 20 minutes from Tel Aviv.

At last, after a seven-month waiting period, we received news from the building administration we could claim our home. This was again a wonderful moment as we were loaded on the truck together with our luggage and we began the trip to Hadar Yosef.

Hadar Yosef. 1950 Pen-and-ink drawing. From 1950 to 1954, the Friedmann family lived in this residential neighborhood of Tel Aviv, in the northeastern part of the city. The artist produced drawings and painted landscapes in and around Hadar Yosef and the nearby Yarkon River


View from the Friedmann family one-room apartment at Amidar 1, Hadar Yosef. Oil.

I telephoned Haifa and authorized the movers to transport our lift from storage in Tel Aviv to Hadar Yosef. In the meantime, we had to sleep on the bare floor, but this did not bother us at all. In the container was furniture for a one-room apartment with kitchen appliances and dishes, my pictures painted after liberation in 1945, including a large amount of (artist’s) material and my violin. After unpacking, we moved forward to the next phase of our life in Israel.

A street in Hadar Yosef, survivors from Europe and those who spent the war years in Shanghai lived in Hadar Yosef. Oil.


A Street in Hadar Yosef. Oil.


Jaffa Beach. Oil. In the background is Tel Aviv, 1952.

I had spoken with Hilde about having a child even back in Prague. This wish was not fulfilled until a year later in Israel. This completed our happiness because a child was yet missing.

Our wish became reality, for our beloved Miriam was born!!! Then together with our Miriam, life truly began in our new home, giving a new meaning to our life cycle, and this experience seems to have no end! These baby and childhood years were the most beautiful of our lives!!!

Miriam with her father David Friedmann, Hadar Yosef, 1952


Miriam with her mother Hildegard Taussig Friedmann, Hadar Yosef, 1952


Recognize the girl portrayed by David Friedmann in 1954? This is among numerous portraits he painted and sketched in Israel


David Friedmann in a commercial art studio in Tel Aviv, 1951. He contributed to the founding of Israel’s advertising industry. Every spare moment he painted for himself producing a large collection of paintings, drawings and portraits in Israel.


The Nazi regime nearly eradicated every trace of David Friedmann, but they did not succeed. Searching for lost art is gratifying and a priceless view into his life. I carry-on with my father’s mission to show his Holocaust art to the world. My goal is to continue to publicize his work through exhibitions, books and film to preserve his legacy for future generations. A new Holocaust documentary by Emmy Award Winner John Rokosny is currently in production with the working title, The Art and Survival of David Friedmann.

Photographs and artwork: The Miriam Friedman Morris Collection, New York

For more about David Friedmann and to provide information you may have about existing works, please visit: www.davidfriedmann.org or the “David Friedmann—Artist As Witness” Facebook page.

Moments in Time: A Journey to the First Days of the State of Israel

As Israel’s 75th Independence Day approaches, we take a look at the achievements and challenges of the young country, portrayed through a variety of moments: first steps on Israel’s soil; water pipes breaking through the heart of a desert; meetings between languages and cultures. Moments of joy and creation, difficulty and coping, but mostly seeing how so many individuals joined together to create something beautiful: Israel

Ulpan Lesson with Efraim Kena'an, Photographer: Yosef Drenger, Nadav Mann, BITMUNA, from the collection of Joseph Dranger, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the Visitor’s Centre at the National Library of Israel decided to put together a photographic exhibition in honor of Yom Ha’Atzmaut, everyone was excited and eager to share their ideas. Each member of the team, a native Israeli or someone who has chosen to live in this country, had different aspects of society that they wanted to show off in the photographs. The big question was how to make something that represented each person’s love and reverence of Israel while also creating something collective and whole.

This desire to preserve the needs of the individual while also creating something coherent, is a necessity that doesn’t only exist in the meeting rooms of the National Library of Israel. In fact, this dichotomy is actually the key theme hidden throughout the pictures of the photographic exhibition.

After lots of back and forth, negotiations and additions, the team knew that if they wanted to make something that truly represented how far Israel had come, they had to take it back to the basics – the building blocks of what makes Israel, Israel. So they went back to the beginning, the conception of Israel and its first two decades as a state.

As the curators started looking for photos in the National Library Collections and Archives, they encountered some recurring themes. The building of society was of course one of these – the brave pioneers who planted, toiled, grew, bricked, plastered and planned intricate cityscapes and communities. It was important to include the building of each society within this exhibition but during the photo selection process, some groups seemed to be conspicuously missing. Not wanting to exclude these communities from the final picture, the National Library curators started thinking about the minority groups arriving in Israel just as the Sabras were building their own state.

Immigration. The second group of images simply had to represent the many people arriving in Israel at the end of the 2nd World War and the Holocaust, as European refugees lost their entire villages and sought out their indigenous homeland, and Arab countries expelled Jews from their territory, seeing them arrive at Israel’s borders. As many such groups arrived at Israel’s doorsteps – from Iraq, Romania, Morocco and more – each with their own culture, clothing, language and customs, the aforementioned challenge presented itself once again: how to combine all of these different peoples into a collective nation?

The images on display certainly document this struggle. As much as the exhibition was erected to celebrate Israel and the immense and impressive strides that the country made in its first 20 years, the challenges of society are evident in the images selected, which tell a story of overcoming barriers that is worth listening to.

“Look at this picture” one of the Visitor Centre staff tells me. She says that it is one of her favorites. It depicts a family arriving from Iraq in 1951 – just moments before their new life in Israel was about to begin. Tens of thousands of Jews were rescued from deep persecution in Iraq, and brought to Israel to start a new chapter. In this image, they are dressed in typical Iraqi clothing, long sidelocks and hats, formal dress and coats for the women. To their left is an Israeli man sent to welcome them from the Jewish Agency, in typical Israeli light casual clothing, cotton trousers and loose shirt, comfortable and smiling. The difference in posture, clothing and demeanor is so clear – how was Israel to ever glue these groups together so that they may live as one?

In the rapid process of building a state, thoughts were not always spared to preserve heritage. This would be the job of parents and grandparents, should they wish to pass on their old country customs to the next generation. The job of the sapling state was to create a melting pot, mixed enough to have a society full of people who not only got along but would be able to fight, pray, live and work side by side.

So, they set about trying to ingrain this mentality in their citizens: Israeliness. Language could therefore be the only possible third category in the photographic exhibition. A number of posters serve to elucidate this point, boldly illustrating the narrative of Israel in the 1950s. The posters encouraged new immigrants to discard their native mother tongue, and adopt Hebrew as the common language instead. Some posters offered a straight and narrow path only open to those willing to learn the Modern Hebrew language, others promised to lift off the burden of the hardships of Europe if only the new immigrants could learn to speak Ivrit. They depict strong Israelis lifting the load of other languages off the backs of olim (newly arrived immigrants)– the new idea of brave and heroic Sabras ‘saving’ the unfortunate Europeans from their past. One image shows new refugees from Morocco gathered around a textbook in an Ulpan in the Northern Negev desert where they had been placed in a temporary settlement until they could be more permanently housed. Here, they learnt Hebrew by lantern light as resources were scarce, while trying to master a language to unite this new Babel that they found themselves in.

The mid-1900s was a time of immense change across the world and in Israel this was confounded by the need to build a new state, as well as keeping up with modern advances in technology, infrastructure and medicine. This exhibition is thus not only a time capsule from the first two decades of Israeli history, but also of a post-war world rebuilding itself into something new and exciting. The visitor’s center explains that the photos were meant to represent what people loved about this new and exciting age, what resonated with individuals and stuck in their minds.

As these photos were affectionately chosen, a new theme seemed to appear pretty much on its own. This segment wasn’t engineered but was so evident as a theme in the images that the exhibition team had no choice but to add a section in its honor: water. Water is and always had been one of Israel’s biggest projects. One of the goals of this exhibition was to encourage the public to truly understand the miracle of Israel’s conception. To see not only its challenges, but also its successes, and feel a sense of pride at how far we’ve come. There is nothing that better encapsulates the accomplishments and victories of young Israel than the fact that a society built on a desert managed to grow crops, generate clean drinking water and thrive.

The idea behind this exhibition was to keep the nostalgia of those first few years of Israel’s new statehood without delving too far into topics that would have been too difficult to summarize in an exhibition with just 52 items.

But there is some controversy to be found in the images that were chosen. It would be disingenuous not to show and reflect the complexity and challenges of Israel’s first decades. Of course, there was always going to be a struggle, as Israel fought to absorb so many new citizens. In less than 4 years the population of Israel had more than doubled. In Israel’s first 3 years alone, the population rose from 650,000 to 1 million people! In a sense, this exhibition relegates these struggles to the past, as looking back today we have the benefit of hindsight to tell us how this should have been dealt with differently; but even now, some of the challenges of those years pervade. Immigrants are still often expected to leave behind their old mannerisms and languages and adapt to life in Israel as if their past wasn’t a relevant factor in their life story. But at least now it is a conversation that is open to being spoken about with integrity, and we strive, as a society, to work together and create a welcoming and inclusive culture.

This is not the final iteration of the exhibition. Soon, a book of 21 additional photos will be available to the public, chosen by a plethora of people who work at the National Library, from the newest interns to the most senior of bosses. In addition to curating a look back on the first 20 years of the State of Israel, this will be a tribute to the elements of this country that are loved by the spectrum of people here at the National Library of Israel. Each employee who picked an image to contribute also explained exactly why they chose it – why it means so much to them. Because ultimately Israel is so many things for so many people, and despite the challenges portrayed in the exhibition, there is a lot here to love.

But for now, in these 52 items, an Israel of the past comes alive. Though no story of Israel can truly be told without mentioning the hardships which inevitably arose when more than half a million new immigrants showed up on Israel’s doorstep just months after the state was established, this exhibition is a testimony to Israel’s success: a small desert which managed to rebuild itself from the ground, and create a space that millions today call home. This is no small achievement, and this exhibition is witness to how far Israel has come on its 75th birthday.

The National Library invites you to visit “Moments in Time – A Journey to the First Days of the State of Israel” – an exhibition in honor of the 75th Independence Day of the State of Israel. Experience the wonder of these moments of joy and creation, difficulty and coping, but mostly – hope and a look to the future.

The exhibition is displayed in the Library building at the entrance to the reading rooms next to the  work of art -“The Ardon Windows”.

You are welcome to come independently during the Library’s operating hours or sign up for a free guided tour, which takes place on Thursdays at 11:00.

For further inquiries: [email protected]

Happy Independence Day!

Yom HaZikaron: A Light in the Darkness

Memorial candles are woven into all aspects of Yom HaZikaron: lit during public ceremonies, by bereaved families at gravesides on Har Hertzl, and of course in homes up and down the country. But why do we use a candle to commemorate the fallen heroes of Israel? What inspires us to shed light in a day full of darkness?

These memorial candles are some of the hundreds lit at the site on which 22 Israeli citizens were murdered on the Number 5 bus on Dizengoff Street, 1994, Photographer: Gideon Markowiz, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

As evening closes in on the night of April 24, we walk soberly to the ceremony. We bow our heads and take our places. The Israeli flag is lowered to half mast, the Memorial Prayer is said, and the candle is lit.

Memorial ceremony at Mt. Herzl military cemetery, 1971, photographer: IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Maybe one candle is lit. Maybe 19 candles are lit to represent the 19 Israeli victims of terror since the start of 2023. Maybe 8 candles are lit to represent the 8 wars Israel has fought in. But you can be sure that at least one flame will cast light across the downturned faces of those at the podium.

A Yom HaZikaron ceremony at the Knesset, 1988. Photographer: IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

We go home and light a candle. Maybe it’s for someone we knew and lost, maybe we have signed up to one of the many schemes to honor forgotten Israeli soldiers, or maybe we light a symbolic candle and keep it aflame for 24 hours to commemorate the collective tragedy of the Israeli people.

Memorial Yorzait candle cover, 1964. Photographer: Avi Biran. Center for Jewish Art Collection. CJA Sacred and Ritual Objects. Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, National Library of Israel

The next morning we walk to Har Herzl, and amidst the tears and the families desperately holding each other for strength, we see candles. Some are on top of graves, some sit in little boxes for protection against the wind. Some are held by friends and loved ones as they recite the Mourner’s Kaddish Prayer.

The symbolism of these candles, woven into all aspects of Yom HaZikaron, may seem clear – a light in the darkness. But this doesn’t fit with Israel or Judaism’s cultural use of candles in other areas of popular custom. Candles are lit to celebrate incoming sabbaths and festivals. Candles are held while walking a bride down the aisle to her groom. Candles are lit on Hannukah to celebrate ancient miracles.

So why do we also use a candle to commemorate the fallen heroes of Israel?

Thousands of Tel Aviv residents come to pay their respects to the 22 citizens murdered on the Number 5 bus on Dizengoff Street. These memorial candles are some of the hundreds lit at the site of the tragedy, 1994. Photographer: Gideon Markowiz, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Despite the many differences that persist between different world cultures, one seeming constant is the mourner’s candle. In Catholicism, lighting a candle is a way to strengthen the bereaved. Lighting a candle to remember the dead is a Catholic custom that dates back centuries, allegedly to Jesus himself, who used candle light to guide his followers, hence the belief that lighting a candle guides the dead closer to Christ. For Buddhists, candles are used in meditation services after death. It is said to focus the meditations on the memories of loved ones and reflect inner thoughts and feelings towards them as the bereaved reminisce and mourn. Dating back even further, Pagans would place white candles on memorial altars to harness their natural energy and send it to the dead, and to aid with channeling the memory of past spirits and family members.

Star of David electric memorial (Yortzeit) lamp, the Josef and Margit Hoffman Judaica Postcard Collection, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Folklore Research Center, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Interestingly, in both China and the Philippines, mourners mark death with candles too, and similar to the practice in Israel, once a year a candle is lit to remember the loved ones that they have lost. But their candles actually mark a visual representation, with different colors indicating different relatives. For Filipinos, pink candles are lit for girls, blue candles for boys, and red candles for those whom one loved most. Meanwhile, in Chinese tradition, there are generally three colors used for memorial candles: white is used during the first year, yellow is used for the first anniversary of the death, and red is used every subsequent year after that on the anniversary of the death.

President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and his wife, Rahel Yanait, with a memorial candle for their son Eli, who fell in the war of 1948. 1958, Photographer: Ilani REI-YBZ. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

In Judaism there is also a strong historic precedent to light candles for the deceased.

There is evidence of Jews lighting candles to honor the deceased as far back as the Mishnaic period, approximately 2,000 years ago: the Mishnah states that one cannot use the “fire of the dead” for the Havdalah blessing on Saturday night because candles symbolize the dead not the living. Additionally, we find that Rabbi Judah the Prince, who was the compiler of the Mishnah, requested that his family “leave a lamp lit in its place” after he passed away. In the 1870s, the Chaffetz Haim adjudicated that all Jews should light a candle on the anniversary of a death as lighting a candle “constitutes atonement for the departed soul.”

The Yahrzeit, 1898, Moritz Oppenheim, Germany, the Josef and Margit Hofmann Judaica Postcard Collection, the Mendel Institute of Jewish Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Folklore Research Center, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

During the Middle Ages, another aspect was added to this bereavement ceremony – the Mourner’s Prayer. Each year on Yom HaZikaron the Mourner’s Prayer is recited across the country. The President and Prime Minister recite it at state ceremonies, individual families recite it at gravesides, and usually a family member of a fallen soldier or terror victim will also publicly recite this prayer to a large and televised audience. In 2015 Racheli Frenkel made history by being the first woman to publicly recite this prayer in the state service, after her son was amongst the three boys kidnapped at the start of Operation Protective Edge. The country watched on as her emotional prayer pierced every heart up and down the country. Everyone, including the most religious of rabbis at the ceremony, responded “Amen.”

The origin of the Mourner’s Kaddish Prayer was compiled by rabbis as a means to memorialize the dead. Its recitation is neither a biblical nor a rabbinic commandment, but a long-held tradition which, like the candle, brings comfort and peace to mourners.

Use of the memorial candle, which is usually lit just before the Mourner’s Prayer, is often dated back to the Book of Proverbs. In Chapter 20, Verse 27 it is said that “the human soul is the candle of God” – lighting candles is a powerful and evocative ritual, as the candle is believed in the Bible to be a tangible symbol of the soul.

President Herzog lighting the Flame of Remembrance, 1992. Photographer: Yolene Haik, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yedidia Frenkel in front of the Yom HaZikaron memorial torches, 1970. Photographer: IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Lighting a candle on Yom HaZikaron in Israel is both political and personal. Political figures from Shimon Perez to President Herzog have been invited to light memorial candles as the world watched on. And for individuals who either light candles for their own loved ones, or volunteer to light a candle for those who have no family to mourn them, it is a deeply meaningful part of the Yom HaZikaron proceedings:

Nehemia Sharabi, a kibbutznik and zoologist, was shot while guarding his post during his service as an army reservist, leaving behind a wife and three children. His commander called him “an exemplary soldier, a friend to everyone, a modest person who knows his own way.”

Eliezer Kolberg, devoted only child to his Holocaust survivor parents, worked as a laborer to support his family. During the War of Independence, he was a member of the brigade who first attempted to break through into besieged Jerusalem, where he fell in battle.

Yigal Ezra, Tel Avivian from birth, served on the southern front during the Yom Kippur War. After he fell in battle, his family set up a scholarship fund in his name and wrote of him: “That smile … modest. You want to know what he thinks? Just look into his wise eyes. You want to know what Yigal thinks? Just turn to him and ask him. He will not erupt. Yigal will not scream. Great nobility was inherent in him. I loved to look at his black, laughing, intelligent eyes, his face – the face of a child.”

Memorial for the fallen soldiers who fought for the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, 1987. Photographer: IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Maybe this year we can keep these courageous young men, and the so many others whose stories are not known, in our thoughts as we light the Yom HaZikaron memorial candles. When a soul departs from the world, it leaves behind a dark void, which the memorial candle serves to replenish. Rabbi Bechayei ben Asher explained, over 800 years ago, that a departed soul will also derive joy from the candle’s light because the Bible states that “the light of the righteous will rejoice.”

Bereaved mother Lea Epstein lights a memorial torch at Ammunition Hill, 1980. Her 26-year-old son Shlomo, a paratrooper, fell in the Six-Day War. On her left is Uri Navon of the Defense Ministry. Photographer: IPPA Staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Those who are partial to the symbolism of Kabbalah hold by the idea that a candle is a physical representation of a human, the wick and flame representing the body and soul. When a candle is lit, both the wick and flame burn upwards, representing the fact that the body is subsumed by the soul and is at its essence energy whose goal is to return to the world around it.

“Memorial Day in Israel”, designers: Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, Shamir Brothers Studio, Shamir Brothers Collection, the National Library of Israel

A flame has three components: The inner blue flame, which surrounds the wick and burns the fuel, the bright body of the flame, which provides the light, and lastly, the glow that surrounds the flame. In Kabbalah it is believed that these three parts correspond to the three components of the soul that are most closely associated with the physical body: nefesh – the burning spirit, ruach – the energy which illuminates a person’s spirit, and neshamah – the aura of a soul. The revered Kabbalist, Rabbi Bahya, wrote that “it is known that the soul enjoys the lighting of the candles and it walks with grace and happiness, spreads and expands due to the enjoyment of the light.” The Kabbalists say that fire is the most refined matter in our material reality, thus approaching the spiritual, and by lighting a candle they believed themselves to be bringing delight and benefit to the souls of the departed.

Memorial candle, 1997, Tunisia. Photographer: Zev Radovan. Center for Jewish Art Collection, CJA Sacred and Ritual Objects. Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The National Library of Israel collections include images of Jewish memorial candles from all over the world: Tunisia, England, Germany, but most of all Israel. From mourning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, to the victims of the most recent operation in Gaza, candles are lit for each Israeli who has died at the hands of terror and war.

The day following Rabin’s assassination, 1995. Photographer: Gideon Markowiz. the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, watched by Chief Rabbi Israel Lau, lighting the central memorial torch for Yom HaZikaron, 1993. Photographer: Zeev Ackerman. The Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

This year, Yom HaZikaron falls in the midst of turmoil. Just earlier this month a new bout of terrorism spiked after clashes on Temple Mount, and rockets from Lebanon and Gaza placed the lives of Israeli citizens in danger, as the country prepared to add yet more names to the ever-growing list of victims.

For each of these names a candle is added too. Candles are unique because they do the opposite of hate. Terrorism and war put out the lights, extinguish happiness and indiscriminately snuff out hope, serving as an ending. A light, however, can give and give without loosing any of its own power. One candle can light up a whole room, and can be used to light many more candles without any expense to its own brightness.

Collection of Yahrzeit Plaques, 1894-1910. Israel/Germany, owned by: William L.Gross, House of Gross, via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

On April 7, Molotov cocktails were thrown into Israeli homes, terrifying and harming innocent families. On April 8, rockets were launched at Israel with burning bright orange paths trailing behind them. On April 9, fires were started in fields in Northern Israel, destroying crops and even killing a few poor chickens resting in their coop. Fire can be used to hate and kill. But less than a month later, one by one, candles will be lit in homes, schools, and cemeteries across Israel, bringing together families and friends to unite in their collective pain and channel their loss into a meaningful ritual.

Yom HaZikaron is about so much more than the struggles of Israel’s past, and the struggles it still contends with. It’s about hope for a brighter future, that peace can and will finally arrive. That there is always a light at the end of the darkness. And that is why we light a candle.